DIRECTOR Jack Heller WRITER Shawn Christensen; Jason Dolan STARS Katherine Waterston; Scott Eastwood; Sara Paxton DVD 2 February

The Haunting of Black WoodWith a plot revolving around several apparent strangers stranded at an isolated cabin in the creepy backwoods of beyond, audiences could be forgiven for assuming The Haunting of Black Wood is a tired retread of the likes of The Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods. Nothing could be further from the truth. Initially titled Enter Nowhere (a much more fitting title given the plot and central themes) the film is part sci-fi, part indie drama, part supernatural thriller.

Strongly influenced by the Twilight Zone and TV’s Lost, Haunting is initially reminiscent of the likes of Carnival of Souls, Dead End and Wind Chill. The set-up is carefully constructed and deliberately vague so as to milk every ounce of intrigue and tension. Just when you think it is about to plod along an Ambrose Bierce inspired death-dream/purgatorial-horror narrative, the twists start coming thick and fast. With each haunting revelation comes an abundance of questions, some of which remain teasingly unanswered — although certain events and outcomes are heavily signposted and eagle-eyed viewers won’t be surprised by the conclusion, which is itself a little too neat in contrast.

Taking their time establishing characters, writers Shawn Christensen and Jason Dolan’s central themes include guilt, the power of hindsight, the hold of the past over the present, the Sins of the Father and free will. These are deftly woven throughout as the characters slowly begin to realise all is not as it seems, and that they all share a mysterious link with one another. Director Jack Heller fuels the mystery with slow-burning tension, an atmosphere of uneasiness and jolting flashbacks hinting at prior personal horrors.

The Haunting of Black Wood is by no means groundbreaking but is testament to the ingenuity of its makers. At times the film is a little compromised by its obviously low budget, but the ideas and delivery hold everything together admirably. With a minimal cast — all uniformly strong, especially Sara Paxton whose troubled yet very likeable bad-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold is particularly compelling — and settings it has the feel of a stage play adaptation and ultimately engages thanks to its character-led plot and eerie suggestions of the supernatural. However as events build towards the denouement, there’s an obligatory race against time and while Heller builds tension, the result is a climax that isn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been, given the carefully constructed, slow-burning first half.

Posted by James Gracey

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (Devil’s Advocates). He contributes to Diabolique, and has also written for Paracinema, Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.